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South Carolina student named national champ by Poetry Out Loud

Last week in Washington, a Charleston student became the first South Carolinian to win the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition and its $20,000 prize.

Janae Claxton, a senior at First Baptist Church School, made history already this year in March by becoming the state’s first back-to-back Poetry Out Loud state competition winner. This past Tuesday, she added another first to her résumé as the first South Carolina student to advance out of round one of the national finals.

By Wednesday night, she was winding down her high school experience as the competition’s national champion. She’ll bring the honor – and its $20,000 prize – back to the Palmetto State, which has offered the Poetry Out Loud competition since she was in first grade. Claxton recited “The Gaffe” by C.K. Williams and “A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General” by Jonathan Swift before clinching the top score from the judges with Sharon Olds’ “I Go Back to May 1937.”

“[Poetry Out Loud] really does change your life. It really does have that power. For me, it changed my identity, made me see myself differently [and realize] I’m smart, I’m intelligent, I can do this,” Claxton said.

“We are so proud of Janae and her historic win—our first national finalist and first national champion. She was absolutely amazing! We are also proud of South Carolina’s Poetry Out Loud program, which involves 7,500 students from 35 schools in 14 counties. We hope that this exciting win will encourage even greater statewide participation,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said.

Nicholas Amador of Hawaii was first runner-up and Hope Stratman of Nebraska was second runner-up. Photos and videos of the nine finalists who competed in the April 25 finals are available here.

Students and schools received $50,000 in awards and school stipends at the National Finals, including $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion, and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. The fourth- to ninth-place finalists each received $1,000. The schools of the top nine finalists received $500 for the purchase of poetry books.

Poetry Out Loud is a national initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Poetry Foundation and the state arts agencies. Its national finals took place at George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington. The event host was poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo. Guest judges included Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress; Lavina Jadhwani, Chicago-based theater director; Robin Coste Lewis, poet and National Book Award winner; Dawn Lundy Martin, poet and professor at the University of Pittsburgh; and Virgil Suárez, poet and professor of at Florida State University. The featured performer was musician Kaia Kater.

Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state, Washington, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. For information, visit PoetryOutLoud.org. For information about Poetry Out Loud in South Carolina, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com.

The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances.

Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas: arts education, community arts development, and artist development. Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call (803) 734-8696.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. Visit Arts.gov for additional information.

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring the best poetry before the largest possible audiences. Visit PoetryFoundation.org for more information.


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